RICE 2022: Why Retailers Should Apply ‘Love Languages’ to Improve Customer Relationships

RICE 2022: Retailers Should Apply ‘Love Languages’ to Improve Customer Relationships

The key to a consumer’s heart involves much more than offering convenience or an appealing product assortment, according to Retail Innovation Conference and Expo keynote speaker Ken Hughes. To really reach today’s customers, retailers need to create loving relationships with them.

In the session titled Love is a Verb: Rethinking Relationship Building in a ‘Digital Retail’ World, Glacier Consulting CEO Hughes explained how dealing with his own divorce allowed him to reflect on how retailers can improve their relationships with customers. Through his own struggles, he realized that applying maintenance principles for healthy love relationships to retail strategy can help win customers in an authentic manner, increasing the potential for lifelong relationships.

“When things break we always learn, and when things are easy we keep on trucking and trucking,” said Hughes in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “I am divorced six years. It’s a painful process and you have to rebuild relationships after that. In those moments you go off and do your reading, you listen to the podcasts. I came to understand relationships that way. The more I read about it, [the more] I became passionate about it myself in my own life.”

Retailers need to start by realizing that consumers in today’s digital-heavy retail world are the center of it all — increasingly, everything revolves around them.


“It’s been a very two-dimensional digital space until now,” said Hughes. “When we talk about Web2 and 3, what we need to understand is digital strategy that comes from retail innovation needs to move from its transactional two-dimensional model today to a 3D relationship model.”

Leveraging the Language of Love in Retail

Hughes identified five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and gift giving. And while words of love are important, the actions that support verbal expressions of love are equally if not more crucial for affirming the love a person feels for the object of his or her affection. Retailers can incorporate these elements into their strategies not to gain consumers but to build relationships that are unique and long-lasting.

“It’s about connections,” said Hughes. “The pandemic should have shaken us by the shoulders, but I don’t see the evidence of that. I see us all snapping right back to where we were. This speech is very popular and does land with people in an emotive space, which is what it’s supposed to do. You’re supposed to look at it and think ‘Oh, maybe some of the things he said I could [use to] do better in all my relationships.’”

Next Steps in Customer Engagement

In the retail space, Hughes is concerned that as the industry moves into the next digital era its clunky, two-dimensional ecommerce platforms are not evolving properly. One result is that few retailers are leveraging the potential that can be found by moving on from sales-focused digital strategies.

Hughes noted that companies have secured such a large amount of consumer data that it is now time for them to return the favor by using this information to create experiences around customers.

“Digital cannot be a new way of selling, it has to be a way of connecting, and my worry is that brands don’t get it,” said Hughes. “How can we take that level of human emotion and interaction at scale, because obviously you can’t do that for every customer? Look at your digital tools and start collecting data. Then you can start to do something pretty special with the data that makes people feel special and feels unique.”

Even retailers with loyalty programs can miss the point of this new world of connecting with consumers. The customer experience must be unique and special, and when brands offer this, they will benefit from the peer-to-peer sharing in which consumers engage following a positive interaction with retailers.

“It’s a bit like Frankenstein,” said Hughes. “You get all the pieces in place, but unless there is a jolt of electricity inside it doesn’t come to life. A peer-to-peer conversation about something that happened to me with a brand brings it to life. That isn’t going to happen unless we go above their expectations.”

Through meaningful connections, brands are now responsible for evoking emotion from consumers. These feelings will make customers feel special and fortify the relationship between consumers and businesses.

“The new competitive advantage is not price, it’s not quality and it’s no longer digital convenience,” said Hughes. “Digital convenience was a competitive advantage for a while in retail, but it’s gone now. Even technological innovation is not going to be a competitive advantage. We’re entering a world where it’s all accessible. The advantage becomes applying that tech in a creative way that emotively responds with a customer. If you can get that emotive connection going, then you have a relationship.”

Using Hughes’ Relationship Advice

The centerpiece of Hughes’ keynote was the “10 Essential Ingredients for a Healthy Relationship.” This scorecard allowed attendees to rate, on a scale of one to 10, the strength of each pillar within their most important personal relationship, and in a second column their digital CX. Retailers should ask themselves if they are providing these experiences as they audit their customer journeys:

  • Love and commitment expressed through actions taken by the retailer’s highest level of effort;
  • Friendship and time in a partnership to ease the customer journey and make them feel valued;
  • Intimacy through a physical presence creates a close relationship with customers;
  • Fidelity, trust and honesty at every step to fulfill a customer’s needs beyond a retailer’s profit;
  • Effective communication via engagement between a customer and an actively listening retailer;
  • Conflict resolution by a retailer who apologizes when wrong and strengthens the relationship;
  • Acts of kindness and support that allow brands to surpass customer expectations;
  • Responsibility as retailers clearly communicate their purpose and give more than they receive;
  • Personal space that bypasses unsolicited campaigns in favor of conversational communication; and
  • Humor to build an emotional response on digital platforms using humanity that inspires customers to smile.

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